Terrorism in North Africa

I was asked to provide comments for Sanlian LifeWeek Magazine in China today, and thought I would blog my responses in English …
Q:With regards to the two operations in Africa, does this demonstrate that the US is shifting its counter-terriorism battlefield from the Middle East to North Africa, while others argue that US is just sending a strong message to the world that the they will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice?

A: It would be wrong to suggest that the US is shifting its counterterrorism policy from the Middle East to North Africa, as the US has always regarded the two areas as interlinked through its Near East Department and associated policies.  Indeed, lets not forget that some of the 9/11 attackers were from Egypt – in North Africa.  What is interesting about the two operations the US undertook was that it returned to a rendition policy that was highly unpopular under President George W. Bush.  At one level it sends a strong message that the US is willing to “hunt down” these terrorists no matter what time frame has passed, but it also signals a move away from using “Drones” to carryout extrajudicial killings.  This extrajudicial killing policy has been the most controversial dimension of the Obama foreign policy, as it goes against current human rights conventions and demonstrates a duplicity on the part of the US.

Q. As far as you’re concerned, in recent years, has terrorism in North Africa gotten  so much rampant that it disattracts US’ attention from other issues?

A. The US is capable of pursuing more than one issue at a time, so I don’t think its counter-terrorism policy in North Africa is a distraction.  However, the way the policy is framed does distract the US from paying attention to the domestic nature of the problems.  Terrorism in North Africa should be seen like a business as much as a political phenomenon.  For example, terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) make millions of dollars through drug trafficking and kidnaps.  Dealing with these local and regional problems requires a local and regional strategy.  However, with the Arab Spring and the removal of Gaddafi, the West has lost an ally, albeit brutally authoritarian, that was willing to take more regional responsibility for countering terrorism.  That is to say that fighting organisations like Al Qaeda in the Maghreb was in Gaddafi’s interest, which is why in 2009 Libyan security leaders met with their counter-parts from Algeria, Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania in the Algerian city Tamanrasset to formulate a regional terrorism strategy.  When Gaddafi was removed, the Tamanrasset agreement fell apart, removing the regional ability to deal with a growing counter-terrorism threat.  This however, is more of an issue for Europe than for the US. 

 For my other thoughts on Extremism in North Africa see mine and Elizabeth Iskander’s submission to the UK House of Lord Select Committee looking into the issue (here).

Violence and terrorism in Egypt – Worrying signs

English: View from Cairo Tower

English: View from Cairo Tower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new and worrying form of violence has erupted in Egypt.  With an bomb exploding at the security HQ in Cairo, it is clear that the overthrow of the Islamist government is having profound consequences for the security of the country.  Interim president Adli Mansour’s spokesman, Ahmed El-Muslimani, described it as a “terrorist attack”.  Targeting police forces seems to suggest that we are entering a stage of reciprocal violence, which will be used as a  justification to stop moves towards democratic change.  The military will use this as a demonstration of violence to justify further counter-productive tactics of killing people on the streets of Cairo.  The police, who were also targeted by a bomb at the weekend in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, will use it as a reason to escalate the violence against Islamists.

The muslim brotherhood has denied any involvement in the bombing and warned of “an apparent plan by security and intelligence agencies to plot violent attacks to terrorise citizens and then attempt to link these incidents to the peaceful protesters”.  However, with many of the Brotherhoods senior official under military detention, it is clear that the Brotherhood has little control over those representing them in street protests – 11 of which have now been killed.

Whilst there have been calls from the Mansour government to hold talks between the country’s political camps, the Brotherhood has said it will not attend and the Nour party is undecided.  What is clear however, is that with 44% of Egyptians unable to name Mr Mansour as the president, his government is facing a legitimation crises already – bombings across the country will do little to help his government find order peacefully, and they will do little for the prospects and prosperity of Egypt.